Having a chronic illness (or many) is hard, there’s no doubt about that. You basically become a full-time patient and very quickly realise you need to become better at advocating for yourself if you want professionals to treat you in the way that you deserve to be treated. Add the workload of a full-time degree course, and the whole social aspect of university then managing this becomes almost impossible. I’m going to share some tips that I’ve gained from my experiences and am trying to start applying to help me through my final 2 years.
- Make sure your tutors are aware – this was something I was told to do by a friend. It was something I always knew I had to do, I just kept on putting it off. Probably because of how awkward and pathetic it felt. Especially considering the undiagnosed nature of my conditions back then and because I have endometriosis and the nature of that alone can generate some unwanted responses. But actually, I was shocked by the responses I got showing genuine care and concern. And just letting people know really reduces the stress and pressure. (Serves me right for having no faith in humanity).
- If you can barely walk up the stairs without nearly passing out don’t attend your class – I still need to learn this, but once your in that state with fatigue nothing will go in. You’ll be spending your entire class trying to focus on just staying upright and not passing out. Nothing will make any sense and you’ll barely be able to keep up with note-taking. Most lectures are recorded now, it’s much more beneficial to stay at home in bed and go through the recording when you feel able.
- Register with your universities disability service – still not done this because I’m not 100% sure I’m officially diagnosed (was told I probably have CFS? Doesn’t sound official.) But do, even if it initially causes stress to get the evidence and such because they can provide you with support throughout your studies.
- Stay calm – you are doing the best you can. Maybe that’s not the brilliant first class marks you wish but you are fighting a hard battle no one knows. I promise you, you are doing enough, and being enough, even if you may get behind on or struggle with your work more than you would like.
- If you need to take a year out, go part-time, or drop out all together then there is no shame in that – your degree is not the be all and end all future success and a rewarding, enjoyable life. There’s so much more to life than the qualifications you’ve gained and the calibre of the career you hold. There’s love, happiness, travel, family. Even the simple things, like waking up in the morning to see the sun shining, gentle walks in the aforementioned sun. There’s so much to life that doesn’t depend on your degree and at the end of the day, everyone will agree your health is far more important than an extra qualification.
- Your gonna have to miss out on certain social activities and networking activities and that’s okay – Uni is when FOMO his you hard, or the guilt over not committing to your future career as you should be and attending all possible networking events. It’s okay to miss things. It’s okay not to go to the pub regularly or go clubbing. It’s okay to not be heavily involved in clubs and society’s and it’s okay to not attend networking events. Again your health is so much more important. And being sick doesn’t mean you’re destined to having no social life. It just means that you need a quieter social life. The best friends are the ones who understand that.
- Take breaks – everyone needs study breaks. The brain can’t focus and absorb information when revising for more than an hour at a time. But this becomes even more important when you’re chronically ill, especially if you face fatigue and brain fog as a result of your illness. Yes, maybe you can “Push through”. But your time is going to be more effective and the information better absorbed if you take regular breaks. So take breaks when you feel the need and don’t feel guilty for needing more breaks than other people.
These are the tips I’ve come up with, if anyone else has others that may be helpful to people in this situation then, please comment and share.